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Abhimanyu (Mahabharata)

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By Krishna Maheshwari


Abhimanyu is one of the greatest warriors of the second generation in the Mahābhārata and a legendary figure. He was the son of Arjuna and Subhadrā and the nephew of Lord Krishna and was the incarnation of Varchas, the son of Soma [1]. He was the husband of the Matsya kingdom's princess, Uttarā, and the father of Parīkşita (born after his death). Trained in the martial arts by his father Arjuna and uncle Srī Kṛṣṇa, he matured into a great warrior at an early age.

Abhimanyu inherited both courage and fighting ability from his father, Arjuna, and his grand-father, Lord Indra. He was considered to be an equal to his father owing his prodigious feats. Abhimanyu participated in the Mahābhārata war when he was sixteen years old. In the absence of Srī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna, Abhimanyu was obliged to break through the cakravyuha, the wheel-formation of the Kaurava army. Though he fought valiantly, he was surrounded by a multitude of Kaurava warriors including Drona, Karna, Duryodhana and Dushasana. He was killed in this battle as he was ignorant of the technique of extricating himself out of that cakravyuha[2]. However, before laying down his life, he fought bravely against the greatest of the Kaurava warriors and displayed remarkable heroism.

Abhimanyu was the most illustrious of the Pandavas/Kurus of his generation. By his virtue and capability, he was deemed to be the most eligible and qualified heir to the throne of Hastinapura. Abhimanyu sacrificed himself to guard Dharma raja.

Abhimanyu's son, Parikshit is the sole heir to the Pandavas and succeeds Yudhishira to the throne. It is also for King Parikshit, that the Bhagavata is first recited.


Contents

Abhimanyu's Birth & Training

Abhimanyu's education began while he was still in Subhadra's womb. He overhead Arjuna telling Subhadra the secrets of how to enter, exit, and destroy various battle formations. Of these, it is of note, that he only heard how to enter (but not exit or destroy) the secret of the Chakravyu formation as Subhadra fell asleep and thus Arjuna didn't complete his explanation.

Abhimanyu spent his childhood in Dwaraka with Subhadra & Lord Krishna. He was trained by Pradyumna, the son of Sri Krishna, and by his great warrior father Arjuna, and brought up under the guidance of Lord Krishna and Balrama.

Marriage

Arjuna arranged Abhimanyu's marriage to Uttara, the daughter of King Virata. The Pandavas had been hiding incognito in the Matsya kingdom during their final year of exile. During that time, Arjuna played the role of dance teacher to Uttara. At the end of the period of exile, upon finding out who the Pandavas were, the king offered to marry Uttara to Arjuna, however, Arjuna had come to think of her as his daughter, so, he asked to have her married to Abhimanyu instead.

Participation in the Mahābhārata War

Abhimanyu was sixteen years old when he fought in the Mahābhārata war. The warriors he fought were far more experienced and seasoned than him and he exhibited courage and valor far greater than what his age, experience and training demanded.

His most important contribution was the fact that he stood between victory and defeat of Pandavas in the war on the 13th day. Without his presence, Yudhisthira would have been captured by the Kaurava forces and the war would be lost.

Abhimanyu's on the 13th day of the Mahābhārata War

During the 13th day of the Mahābhārata war, Drona (the commander in chief of the Kaurava army at the time) created the Chakravyu formation which only Arjuna & Krishna (on the Pandava side) knew how to defeat. Unfortunately, they were dragged into a war with the Samsaptaka forces led by Susharma at the other end of the battle-field and too far from the formation to know about it.

Drona at the head of the formation was wreaking havoc with the Pandava forces. Seeing the destruction of his army, Yudhishthira asked Abhimanyu for help. Abhimanyu informed him that he how to enter the Chakravyu formation but not the way out. Yudhishira, Bheema, Nakul, Sahadeva, and other warriors were to follow Abhimanyu into the chakravyu to assist him in getting out. [3]

Unfortunately, they were not able to follow him in due to Jayadratha, the king of the Sindhus who utilized a boon that he had received from Shiva to single-handedly hold off the Pandava forces for the day. Another reason that the rest of the Pandava forces could not accompany him could be that in his zeal, he rushed through the forces and did not wait for his senior colleagues to support him[4].

Abhimanyu lacked the knowledge and strategy required to defeat the chakravyuha battle strategy. He attacked whoever came his way, and vanquished many - but once he entered the cakra vyuha, he lacked a specific direction to move, and kept wandering, trying to find his way out because he only learned how to enter but not how to exit. As a result, he ended up fighting the entire Kuru host, trying to stand in the war instead of moving through the forces. He was deemed invincible as long as he was moving with the knowledge of direction. Neither did he have support from Pandava forces to stay nor the know-how to move away.

During the course of the battle, he killed approximately 10,000 soldiers, horsemen, and elephant-men. He killed the following maha-rathis[5]:

  • King of Asmaka [6]
  • Sushena[7]
  • Drighalochana[8]
  • Kundavedhin[9]
  • the younger brother of Salya [10]
  • younger brother of Karna (younger son of Radha) [11]
  • Vasatiya [12]
  • Rukmaratha, son of Salya [13]
  • Lakshmana, son of Duryodhana [14]
  • King of Kratha [15]
  • Vrindaraka[16]
  • Vrihadvala, King of Kosala [17]
  • six of Karna's counsellors [18]
  • son of the ruler of the Magadhas[19]
  • Bhoja prince of Martikavata[20]
  • Satrunjaya, [21]
  • Chandraketu, [22]
  • Mahamegba[23]
  • Suvarchas, [24]
  • Suryabhasa[25]
  • Suvala's son, Kalikeya[26]

The following maha-rathis fought and were wounded by Abhimanyu and forced to turn away or lost consciousness for a short period of time before resuming the battle:

As night drew near, Duryodana asked Drona how Abhimanyu could be killed. Drona said:

Observing him with vigilance, have any of you been able to detect any defeat in this youth? He is careening in all directions. Yet have any of you been able to detect today the least hole in him? Behold the lightness of hand and quickness of motion of this lion among men, this son of Arjuna. In the track of his car, only his bow drawn to a circle can be seen, so quickly is he aiming his shafts and so quickly is he letting them off. Indeed, this slayer of hostile heroes, viz., the son of Subhadra, gratifieth me although he afflicteth my vital breath and stupefieth me with shafts. Even the mightiest car-warriors, filled with wrath, are unable to detect any flaw in him. The son of Subhadra, therefore, careering on the field of battle, gratifieth me greatly. I do not see that in battle there is any difference between the wielder of Gandiva himself and this one of great lightness of hand, filling all the points of the horizon with his mighty shafts.

Karna, repeating the question asked:

Exceedingly afflicted with the shafts of Abhimanyu, I am staying in battle, only because (as a warrior) I should stay here. Indeed, the arrows of this south of great energy are exceedingly fierce. Terrible as they are and possessed of the energy of fire, these arrows are weakening my heart.

Drona answered:

Abhimanyu is young, his prowess is great. His coat of mail is impenetrable. This one's father had been taught by me the method of wearing defensive armour. This subjugator of hostile towns assuredly knoweth the entire science (of wearing armour). With shafts well shot, you can, however, cut off his bow, bow-string, the reins of his steeds, the steeds themselves, and two Parshni charioteers. O mighty bowman, O son of Radha, if competent, do this. Making him turn back from the fight (by this means), strike him then. With his bow in hand he is incapable of being vanquished by the very gods and the Asuras together. If you wish, deprive him of his car, and divest him of his bow[33]

Following which Karna quickly cut Abhimanyu's bow. Kritayarman killed his horses and Kripacharya killed his two Parshni charioteers. The others all simultaneously attacked him with their arrows. Bowless and carless, Abhimanyu, took up a sword and a shield and attacked. However, Drona cut his sword at the hilt and Karna destroyed his shield[34]. He then picked up a chariot wheel from the ground and rushed at Drona. The kings all attacked and broke the wheel into small fragments. Abhimanyu than picked up a mace and rushed at Aswatthaman. Aswatthaman jumped out of his chariot and ran as Abhimanyu destroyed his chariot. Abhimanyu than attacked and killed Kalikeya and seven hundred and seventy of his army. He then attacked Duhasasana's son and destroyed his chariot. They both knocked each other down. Duhasasana's son got up first and hit Abhimanyu on the head, killing him as he was getting up[35].

Abhimanyu's Death as the Turning point of the Mahābhārata War

Abhimanyu's death was certain the moment he set out to penetrate the chakravyuha, and Abhimanyu was well aware of this but his courage and commitment were so strong, that he never cared. And when he stood alone and without a bow, he had in his sight several warriors shooting at him from distance, whom he could not hope to fight - and he was left with whatever he could find on the ground, a mace or a chariot wheel. In a way, his death was considered to be murder rather than death in the battlefield.

In attacking him, the Kauravas committed the biggest breach of ethics and code of the Mahābhārata war. This in a way, was the turning point of the war. On the 14th day, the Pandavas retaliated with all their might and fury--holding nothing back. Bhimasena killed twenty-five of Duryodhana's brothers and rendered Karna helpless and ineffective. Arjuna killed Jayadratha. Collectively, the Pandavas destroyed eight of the eleven Akshauhini Kaurava army[36][37][38].

References

  1. Mahabharata, 18.5, [1], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  2. The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore
  3. Mahabharata, 7.33, [2], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  4. NS Rajaram, "Search for Historical Krishna"
  5. Mahabharata, 7.47, [3], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  6. Mahabharata, 7.35, [4], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  7. Mahabharata, 7.35, [5], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  8. Mahabharata, 7.35, [6], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  9. Mahabharata, 7.35, [7], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  10. Mahabharata, 7.36, [8], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  11. Mahabharata, 7.39, [9], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  12. Mahabharata, 7.42, [10], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  13. Mahabharata, 7.43, [11], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  14. Mahabharata, 7.44, [12], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  15. Mahabharata, 7.44, [13], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  16. Mahabharata, 7.45, [14], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  17. Mahabharata, 7.45, [15], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  18. Mahabharata, 7.46, [16], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  19. Mahabharata, 7.46, [17], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  20. Mahabharata, 7.46, [18], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  21. Mahabharata, 7.46, [19], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  22. Mahabharata, 7.46, [20], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  23. Mahabharata, 7.46, [21], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  24. Mahabharata, 7.46, [22], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  25. Mahabharata, 7.46, [23], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  26. Mahabharata, 7.47, [24], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  27. Mahabharata, 7.35, [25], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  28. Mahabharata, 7.39, [26], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  29. Mahabharata, 7.35, [27], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  30. Mahabharata, 7.38, [28], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  31. Mahabharata, 7.42, [29], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  32. Mahabharata, 7.43, [30], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  33. Mahabharata, 7.46, [31], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  34. Mahabharata, 7.46, [32], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  35. Mahabharata, 7.47, [33], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  36. Mahabharata, 7.145, [34], translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  37. The destruction of eight akshauhinis is mentioned by Sanjay to Dritrashtra
  38. Duryodana states to Drona that seven akshauhinis were killed on this day (Mahabharata, 7.149) [35]